Nike Founder Phil Knight Shares 5 Tips For Building A $100B+ Brand

Phil Knight is retired now, but you can see him—or a version of him, played by Ben Affleck—in Air. The new movie details the company’s historic deal with Michael Jordan, a business coup if ever there was one. So how did Knight go from an accountant to head of a company worth $190 billion and synonymous with sports and fitness?

Here are some secrets behind the success of the man behind the famous swoosh.

1. “Belief is irresistible.”

In his 2016 memoir Shoe Dog: A Memoir By the Creator of Nike, Knight writes about leaving his job as an accountant to start a shoe company way back in the 1964. He found find little support for his venture—apparently, even his dad said, “What am I going to tell my friends?” But, the future shoe mogul found the courage to forge ahead after giving himself a pep talk. It went something like: “Let everyone call your idea crazy. Just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

2. “Everything spins off the consumer.”

Early success led Knight & co. to believe that their success began with the product. This worked for a time but when the company plateaued (at a not-too-shabby $1b per year), Nike had to start thinking differently. Star athletes and lab-born innovations had taken the company as far as they could. So Nike went back to basics, discovering who its consumers were and what the brand represented to them. “While technology is still important, the consumer has to lead innovation,” Knight told Harvard Business Review in 1992. “We have to innovate for a specific reason, and that reason comes from the market. Otherwise, we’ll end up making museum pieces.”

3. “Without focus, the whole brand is at risk.”

When Nike went into the casual shoe business in the early eighties, the move was a disaster. A corporate rethink followed, and Knight and his team realized that they had to focus on becoming “the world’s best sports and fitness company.” Following such determination, certain things—making loafers, sponsoring a Vans Warped-style tour—were off the table.

4. “Be innovative in all areas of the business.”

When Nike started out, selling $100,000 a year in the early ‘60s, innovation on the product came naturally. But when the company started innovating in other areas, such as marketing and advertising, the bottom-line skyrocketed. “We need a way of making sure people hear our message through all the clutter,” Knight said. “That means innovative advertising—but innovative in a way that captures the athletes’ true nature.”

5. “Prepare for a lot of dark days.”

One lesson that people should take from his book, Knight told, is that entrepreneurs will face hardship on their way to success. Every successful startup has had to face dark days, even Steve Jobs and Apple. Entrepreneurs have “got to really like what they are doing and they have to have a reason for it to succeed,” Knight said.

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